Dr. Taras Kuzio, Resident Fellow
Centre for Russian and East European Studies,
University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Prague, Czech Republic
RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report
Vol. 5, No. 7, 25 February 2003
On 12-13 February, Ukraine held for the first time parliamentary hearings
on the question of the famine of 1932-33 that led to the deaths of between 3
million and 7 million people. The hearings were held in accordance
with a resolution passed by the Verkhovna Rada on 28 November 2002.
President Kuchma first suggested at the annual convention of
the Federation of Trade Unions on 21 October 1997 that the annual
anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, 7 November, be transformed
into a day of understanding and reconciliation. Such a step, he
suggested, should be undertaken by the Verkhovna Rada. The
legislature, then headed by Oleksandr Moroz, with the largest faction
being Communist, turned down the draft law establishing 28 November
as an annual day of understanding and reconciliation.
Left-wing factions were removed from control of parliament
only in early 2000 when the center and national democrats united for
the first and only time. At this time, communist symbols on the
Verkhovna Rada were finally removed, though a statue of Vladimir
Lenin still stands in Kyiv -- one of 500 still standing primarily
outside Western Ukraine.
Ukraine has long held an ambivalent attitude toward its
Soviet past. Until now, only a small monument to the famine has
existed in Kyiv next to the rebuilt Mykhaylyvskyy Sobor. A
presidential decree dated 28 November 2002 supported the call by the
Ukrainian diaspora to build a far bigger monument to the famine in
central Kyiv on the 70th anniversary of the famine this year. The new
monument will be part of a Famine Memorial Complex housing a museum
and research center.
Ukraine's ambivalent attitude toward the Soviet past
rests upon its three-way division of political forces in Ukraine.
National democrats have long held negative views of the Soviet past
and what they call its crimes against humanity, such as the famine
and Stalinist terror. National democrats, whose primary base is in
western-central Ukraine, hold analogous views to their counterparts
in the Baltic states that Soviet rule was an occupation by foreign,
i.e., Russian, forces. According to the national democrats, Russia,
as the successor state to the Soviet Union, is therefore guilty of
Soviet crimes. During Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to
Ukraine in January to attend the CIS summit and to begin the Year of
Russia in Ukraine, he and Russian Ambassador Viktor Chernomyrdin were
asked by journalists if Russia would pay compensation to the famine
victims along the lines undertaken by Germany after World War II.
They refused to consider the matter.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Communist Party
(KPU) acknowledged only as late as 1990 that a famine had even taken
place. At that time, Social Democratic Party-united (SDPU-o)
parliamentary faction leader and former President Leonid Kravchuk was
in charge of communist ideology and propaganda. Many of today's
"political scientists," such as Deputy Prime Minister Dmytro
Tabachnyk, lectured on Marxism-Leninism in the Soviet era and wrote
articles condemning the diaspora for raising events such as the
The KPU was banned in August 1991 and then a new KPU was
allowed to register in October 1993. During the Verkhovna Rada
hearings on the famine, KPU leader Petro Symonenko denied that the
famine was artificial and blamed it on disastrous weather conditions,
low harvests in 1931-32, the pre-Soviet agricultural heritage, and
Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz argued that Soviet
Ukraine reunited Ukrainian territories and, in contrast to the
tsarist regime, it at least recognized Ukrainians as a separate
ethnic group. The Socialists blame Stalinism for crimes committed in
Ukraine, not Soviet rule as such. Such a view is similar to that
espoused by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
What has held up Ukraine's investigation of Soviet crimes
against humanity the most has been the centrist camp, which hails
from the top levels of the pre-1991 KPU. In 1990-1991, the KPU began
to split into "sovereign-national communists" and "imperial
communists." In the 1990s, sovereign-national communists evolved into
centrist oligarchs who first appeared as political parties in the
The attitude of centrists is the most confusing, as they,
unlike national democrats, refuse to condemn the Soviet regime as a
whole, perhaps understandably, as they are themselves a product of
that very same regime. Since Kuchma faced Symonenko in the 1999
presidential elections and used the "Red Scare" to encourage
Ukrainians to vote for him to thwart a Communist comeback, centrists
have been comfortable attacking Soviet crimes against humanity. In
this, they hold similar views as the national democrats that the
famine was a "genocide" on a par with the Nazi Holocaust. During the
Verkhovna Rada hearings, centrist and former parliamentary speaker
Ivan Plyushch blamed the "cruel and godless Bolshevik regime" for the
At the same time, the center disagrees with the national
democrats over whom to blame for Soviet crimes. Centrists blame
Marxist-Leninist ideology and Stalinism for crimes, including the
famine, not Russians. Both centrists and national democrats see the
famine as directed against Ukrainians.
The timing of the Verkhovna Rada hearings remains suspicious.
On the one hand, Kuchma undoubtedly wanted to deal with the issue
early in the year, as it may cause difficulties with the Year of
Russia in Ukraine. National democrats have already complained that
the Year of Russia in Ukraine should not be held in the same year as
the 70th anniversary of the famine.
The hearings also took place a month before planned
opposition protests. In his November decree, Kuchma sought to inflame
the already difficult relations between Our Ukraine and the KPU by
putting them to yet another test. Our Ukraine has refused to join any
joint opposition platform with the KPU and has only agreed to
cooperate with the Socialists and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc.
A final factor is next year's presidential elections.
With stable popularity ratings over the last three years of 25-30
percent, Yushchenko will inevitably advance to a second round. If he
faces Symonenko, Ukraine would have a rerun of the 1999 elections,
but this time pro-Kuchma centrists would be forced to rally behind
national democrat Yushchenko. If Yushchenko faces a pro-Kuchma
centrist, the KPU will back the centrist oligarch and thereby repeat
their tactics in April 2001 when they voted with the centrists to
remove the Yushchenko government.